Tag Archives: history

Ancestry or Find My Past? A dilemma

For a while I have been pondering subscribing to one of the online family history websites. By far the most prominent are Ancestry and Find my Past. I’ve found myself doing more and more social history, which uses things such as the censuses and registers. And of course, both websites also have military records that are quite useful.

My problem is, which one to go for. Each has some records that the other does not have.

Find my Past has all of the censuses from 1841 to 1911, Merchant Navy crewlists and Seamans records, some miscellaneous occupational records, Parish Registers from 1538 to 2005, Birth Marriage and Death indexes from 1837 onwards, divorce indexes, some probates and wills, and some travel and migration records, such as East India Company records, Passenger lists and Registers of Passport applications.

It is in the military area that I am most interested. FMP has armed forces births, marriages and deaths 1796-2005; Army Roll of Honour 1939-45; British Army Service Records 1760-1915; De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914-1918; DCM Citations 1914-1920; Irish Great War Records; National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918; Naval Casualties 1914-1919; New Zealand WW1 Soldiers; RA Honours 1939-46; RA MM’s 1916-93; RM Medal Roll 1914-1920; RN Division 1914-19; RN Officers 1914-20; Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19; WW2 POW’s; and the Waterloo Medal Roll of 1815.

Ancestry has all of the censuses, plus some foreign; and even some electoral rolls and slave registers; the usual BMD Registers, plus Parish Registers; British wills and probate and some foreign too; an extensive range of Passenger Lists and alien entry books. In terms of the military, Ancestry has British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920; British Army Medal Index Cards 1914-1920; British Army Pension Records 1914-1920; ‘Soldiers Died'; Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1949; Army Roll of Honour 1939-45; WW1 Silver War Badge Records; POW’s 1939-45; Navy Lists 1908 and 1914; De Ruvigny’s R of H; DCM Citations and RN Division Records.

How the hell am I, as a WW1 historian, supposed to choose between the two of them? Whichever website I subscribe to, I am missing out on something vital on the other. If I join FMP I get RN Officers 1914-1920, and the RM Medal Roll; but if I join Ancestry I get Medal Index Cards and Silver Badge Records.

I have a feeling that this dichotomy in record digitisation is caused by the National Archives policy. Lacking the resources to digitise things themselves – they tend to charge by the item, in any case – TNA outsource each particular project to the highest bidder, either FMP or Ancestry. As a result, records are scattered between the two. As a result commercial interests are seriously hampering historical research.

Has anyone else in the field had this problem?

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Filed under Family History, World War One

Book signing at the D-Day Museum on Sunday

On Sunday I will be at the D-Day Museum in Southsea to give a short talk about my book ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. Afterwards I will be signing copies.

The talk starts at 2pm, and is included in the usual admission price to the museum, or £2 for the talk alone. The book signing afterwards is free to all.

Hope to see you there!

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Filed under event, World War Two

Portsmouth’s WW2 Heroes Book Tour underway

Last night I have my first talk based on my new book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. The audience at the D-Day Museum were the Portsmouth Museums and Records Society, a group that I first joined as a committee member at the age of 17! I’ve lectured the Society three times now, so you could say I’m something of an old hand by now!

As always it was great to get out and present some history, hear some comments and answer some questions. For me, that’s why you should want to write history – to take it to people. I can’t stand why authors wouldn’t want to take their book out to people and interact with the public?! It’s like a band producing an album and then never going on tour or doing any interviews!

The first copies of the book arrived at the Museum for sale in the afternoon, and were on the shelves in time for the talk. Five lucky guests went away with the first signed copies of ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. The book is now for sale at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, and hopefully early next week will be available at the City Museum as well.

I have several more talks booked – in Gosport, ironically – and a signing and talk at the D-Day Museum for the general public in March, please see my Talks page for details. I am in discussions with another couple of venues and groups about some more events. If anyobody out there is a talks organiser for a local group and you think you might like to book me, please feel free to get in touch.

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Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes arrives!

Yesterday I received the first advance copy of my new book ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’ through the post.

The publishers inform me that the book will be leaving the distributors warehouse early next week, so hopefully we should start seeing books appearing on the bookshelves and through the online outlets in the near future!

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War Horse

War Horse (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just got in from seeing War Horse, so I thought I would post a review while it’s still fresh in my mind.

The film is set in Iddisleigh, a picturesque village in Devon not far from my better half’s place of origin. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and equally well matched by the soaring, classical soundtrack. Some of the action scenes are mind-blowing, particularly the cavalry charges. The battle scenes are not as bloody as say Band of Brothers or the Pacific, but I don’t really think that they needed to be horrific for the sake of it.

In historical terms, there were perhaps a few bloopers. The german accents are almost laughable, and I can’t think for the life of me why Spielberg didn’t make them sound better. And in the final scenes in France all kinds of random men in random units seem to mingle together freely, which seems a bit unrealistic. But apart from that, it seemed to ring true for the most part. It IS a completely unrealistic story – but then that is the beauty of a novel, it doesn’t have to be absolutely realistic, and we can forgive a little historic or artisitic licence if it serves the story.

My performing arts student girlfriend tells me that there isn’t any particularly great acting, in fact the real star of the film is/are the horse(s). This film is very much an epic rather than a drama. That said, there are some very touching moments – apart from the final reunion scene, when the main equine protagonist becomes entangled in barbed wire is likely to move even the most cynical of hearts.

Whenever a new war film or programme comes out, you can guarantee that there will be scores of internet ‘experts’, bemoaning the inaccuracies and claiming the moral high ground. Sure, no war film is ever 100% accurate. But they can never be – no one really dies in a war film, surely? We need to look beyond the historical inaccuracies of incorrect shoulder titles or weapons. They might matter to us geeks, but in the bigger picture a film like War Horse has got thousands of people interested in the First World War, which is something that no manner of scholarly articles or mediocre books will achieve. Neither geeks, enthusiasts nor academics have any universal ownership of war. War is a human experience that touches everyone when it occurs, so it is the right of everyone to be interested by it.

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Filed under western front, World War One

Three weeks to Publication!

It’s just under three weeks – 20 days, to be exact! – until my first book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’, is published!

It’s been a long time coming but it’s exciting to know that it’s not far away now. The official publication date is 01 February, apparently the books should materialise sometime later in the month. There should be an official youtube trailer available some time soon too.

If anybody would like to pre-order, you can pre-order from the following online outlets:

Amazon

The History Press

Waterstones

WH Smith

Foyles

Play.com

Book Depository

Telegraph Books

Guardian Books

It should also be on sale in local bookshops, including the D-Day Museum and Portsmouth City Museum.

If anybody is trying to order from abroad, I have seen it listed on American, Canadian, New Zealand and even Polish websites – let me know and I will try and find you a link.

If anybody would like a signed copy, please let me know and I will see what I can do. I am hoping to have a number of signing events over the next year or so.

Happy reading!

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2nd Portsmouth Pals Battalion War Diary located!

For a long time I had been labouring under the misaprehension that only a select few WW1 war diaries had been made available for download via The National Archives Documents Online service. In such a manner I had downloaded a copy of the 1st Hampshire’s War Diary some time ago, and not long ago I posted up a summary of their activities from Le Cateau in August 1914 until the beginning of 1918. It’s a thread that I’m sure I will pick up again some time in the future.

But thanks to browsing on the Grear War Forum, I have discovered that more War Diaries are available than I had originally thought. It works like this – for many Battalions, in particular territorial or hostilities only, the Battalion diaries have been grouped by brigade, hence by a cursory glance, it appears that it is only the Brigade HQ War Diary that is available. But, and here’s the golden bit, they are actually consolidated – so in reality you get four for the price of one!

Of course I have a very keen interest in the Portsmouth Pals, as I will be carrying out a lot of research into their formation, their membership, their battles and their losses. Sadly the war diary for the 1st Portsmouth Pals (14th Hampshires) is not available, and will necessitate a trip to Kew, but that of the 2nd Portsmouth Pals (15th Hampshires) is.

I’ve downloaded a couple of hundred page PDF’s, and although I have only had a quick flick through, it seems like it is unusually detailed for a war diary. Not necessarily in terms of grid references, maps or operational matters, but it does seem to give an unusually high amount of attention to other ranks rather than just officers. Of course this will be priceless for finding out about when Private X died, or when Sergeant Z won his Military Medal.

Let the transcribing begin!

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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, western front, World War One